July 18, 2005

U.S. activists in big push on N.Korea human rights

By Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The movement to press North Korea on
human rights can support -- not hinder -- negotiations to
convince the communist state to give up nuclear arms, activists
said on Monday.

On Tuesday, about a thousand people including U.S. and
South Korean lawmakers, Jewish holocaust experts and North
Korean refugees will hold a conference focusing on the human
rights record of the government of leader Kim Jong-il.

Negotiators from the United States, China, Japan, Russia
and South Korea are slated to sit down around July 25 with
North Korea for six-party nuclear talks in Beijing.

Conference organizer Jae Ku, head of the North Korea
Project at the U.S. government-funded Freedom House, said the
timing was perfect to focus on the "nature of the Kim Jong-il
regime and the egregious abuse of human rights."

He rejected suggestions by some critics of the human rights
activists that pressure on the issue would upset delicate
diplomacy to convince Kim to abandon his nuclear ambitions in
exchange for economic and energy aid.

"We certainly hope that we serve as moral pressure on the
Kim Jong-il regime to not only come to the talks but to really
come with a view toward seeking meaningful change," Ku said.

Other activists said it was important that people inside
North Korea got word that human rights was on the international
agenda alongside the nuclear issue.

"We know there are people in the regime, including elites,
who are disillusioned as well as the general population, so
this is a time when human rights ought to be the main focus,"
said Suzanne Scholte, head of the Defense Forum Foundation, a
conservative think tank.

Scholte is also a leading figure in the bipartisan North
Korea Freedom Coalition, which lobbies to help refuges from
North Korea and keep human rights high on the policy agendas of
governments around the world.

"As was demonstrated by the unanimous passage of the North
Korea Human Rights Act, the atrocities that are going on is
something that touches everyone and it's certainly not an issue
that has any political stripe at all," she said.

The 2004 U.S. law provides for U.S. support to help North
Korean exiles hiding in China move to third countries as well
for funding for broadcasts and publications aimed people inside
North Korea, who have access only to government media.